High School Football is a Rite of Passage
Modern society lacks any rite of passage allowing boys to become men. Am I saying that football is the best rite of passage? Not necessarily, but it offers a challenging opportunity for boys to learn about brotherhood, physical challenges and dealing with wins and losses.
I stopped growing taller in 8th grade and basketball was losing its appeal to me. I had grown very fond of football, but my parents weren’t allowing me to play. I could empathize as they watched my older brother get carted off with a broken leg on Homecoming night.
But I took a stand and told them I’m going to find a way to play with or without their permission. The caveat was that I needed to get a lot stronger, so I took to the weight room and went to try out a few months later.
Lesson #1 Stand Up For Yourself
I didn’t know shit about football. I didn’t even know what position I would be. I literally played every single position on defense in my first year. I ended up playing safety for most of my first season, and yeah, I started every game.
Lesson #2 You Can Learn Anything with the Right Attitude
While I was successful, I had a lot to learn and was really just beginning to comprehend the game. Then freshman year, my second year of football, I was competing for left tackle on the offensive line. The blind side. Some other kid was a better safety than me and I was getting bigger and stronger. Our small school lacked strong kids who could play lineman.
Lesson #3 Be Adaptable and Accept Changes
There was this bigger kid who had played this position for years. He knew more than me and weighed more, but he was lazy. I knew I could beat him. I knew I had to prove myself to get that starting position, but I knew I could do it.
So, I busted my ass every single day. When we ran laps, I made sure I lapped this kid. When we did any type of blocking drill, I went up against him. I would literally drive him into the ground. I wanted to make it abundantly clear that I was better than him. I wanted that job.
And that first day, guess what happened? I started left tackle. And I took this job seriously. Not only did I love playing football, but the quarterback was a great friend of mine. He literally was trusting his back to my blocking skills and I made damn sure no one was getting through me. And I’m pretty sure I didn’t give up a single sack that year.
Lesson #4 Life Rewards Those Who Want It More
The story didn’t end there either. I went on to play that position for the next 3 years of high school and I was going up against bigger and bigger guys. So, when I wasn’t playing football, I lived in the gym. I ate everything I could. I shit you not. I drank a Slimfast with my massive meals. I’m confident I was eating at least 5,000 calories a day.
By senior year, I had gained 40 pounds. I gained 10 pounds a year. I owned that gym. Everyone knew that I would be one of the first guys in there after school got out. Everyone knew I would be on of the last guys in there before going home. I would bring my own mix CDs in there and crank up grunge metal and hardcore rock. Metallica, Slayer, Rage Against the Machine, Tool. I’m feeling nostalgic. Indulge me.
Lesson #5 Small Daily Changes Produce Big Results Over Time
And my senior year I started that same position every year. I fucking earned it. It wasn’t easy. And the second game of the season, I sprained my ankle.
I was laid up and struggled to even walk on it. I asked the team athletic trainer what happened to my ankle. He said I could either quit and let it heal or tape it up and play. “Can I seriously hurt it any further?” No. “Alright, fuck it. Tape it up.
So, I played the next 8 games with my ankle taped up every time and it hurt like hell. My girlfriend (who wanted to be a nurse) would massage it later. And 2 weeks later I got a concussion. Or so I’m told. Honestly, there were a couple weeks in my life I don’t remember very well.
Lesson #6 Life is All About Handling Adversity (Stolen from my father)
But after all the injuries, the pain, the struggles and hardships, I have zero regrets. I fucking loved football. Not just because it’s fun to throw a ball or hit someone or win a game. I love football because of all that I learned in those few years playing. I learned how to be resilient. I learned how to earn what I want. I learned the importance of brotherhood.
Seeing the transformation my body took from busting my ass in the gym is something that has stuck with me to this day. That is why I’m acting like a psychopath and working to drop 20 pounds in two months! Because I want to run a half marathon in under 2 hours. That’s 9:09 per mile. So, this isn’t just about running the race. This is about killing it.
Bottom line, if you want something, you can get it. You gotta want it. Someone competing with you? Whoever wants it more will get it.
How’d the story end? My freshman year was the first year my school had a football program. Before that we coopted with the town next door. So there were great expectations specifically for our class. Our senior year, we were the first team to have a winning record. And in the last game of the season, I shit you not, we wound up playing against the team that we used to coop with.
This was a bloodbath. An arduous battle with the other school only scoring once for 3 quarters. We were the preppy school of rich kids (we weren’t rich but that was the perception) and they expected to run all over us. We held our own. In the last few minutes of the game, we marched. We shoved the ball down their throat with run play after run play. We simply wore out the defense and took a few yards every play.
With time nearing zero, our running back finally broke through running behind me as we tied the game up at 6. All we had to do was kick an extra point and we were in the playoffs. Our coach decided to get cute and had us do a play action run pass that honestly most of us had completely forgotten was in the playbook. The timing wasn’t perfect. The quarterback wasn’t the most accurate. But there was a degree of cleverness to the play call.
We run up to the line and the receiver is loosely covered but the pass rush was quick, and the ball missed the mark. We missed out on going to playoffs by one point on the final play of the game. Life isn’t Hollywood.
I distinctly remember the locker room after the game. It was quiet. Lot of shock and disappointment. I remember seeing some of my friends crying. Looking back as an adult, I chock up a lot of this emotion to them being finished with football. Sure, a few kids went on to play ball in college, but it was still the end of an era. An experience that you’ll never replicate again as you grow older.
You’ll find time to play pickup games of basketball. You can golf. You can join softball leagues. But you never play full contact tackle football again.
We lost that football game over 10 years ago. Would things be different if they won? Who knows? Who cares? None of us ended up like Uncle Rico blaming our lot in life on a fucking game. The quarterback became a successful insurance salesman starting his own agency. The wideout became an accountant. The running back joined the air force and made a career of it. I wrote a kickass blog and a book! Guys got married, had kids and lived fulfilling lives.
I can’t think of a single person on that team that you would call soy or lazy or weak. Football turns a boy into a man, and if you never played, you’ll never understand that fact. My point is that there are a lot of people who never grew up and are stuck living in infantilism. The transition from boy to man requires a rite of passage where a man can test his strengths, his resiliency and his capabilities. A rite of passage makes for stronger men and a stronger society.
Final Lesson: There’s Always More to Life